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A place-making piece of urban furniture. Meet blop.

Dobrawa Bies
13 of April '22

Natala Tarnowska, a graduate of the School of Form at SWPS University, has designed an unusual piece of urban furniture. Her blop. is a place-making object consisting of five, rounded, colorful elements made of synthetic rubber. blop. functions as seats and backrests that can be placed on concrete steps, walls and windowsills. The design encourages informal sitting in various places and strengthens the relationship with urban space.

Colorful blop. is an alternative to typical urban furniture. The project promotes the phenomenon of citying, a philosophy of informal sitting on small forms of architecture not strictly designed for this. Objects made of soft, synthetic rubber, are characterized by high resistance to abrasion, weathering, further advantages are good insulation, comfort and the possibility of repairing a damaged piece. blop. reminds of the possibility of sitting in urban space, not only on benches.

blop. w przestrzeni miejskiej

blop. encourages informal seating in the city

© Natala Tarnowska

interview with Natala Tarnowska

Dobrawa Bies: Let's start the conversation with a rather broad question - what do Polish cities lack and do you think good design can change them?

Natala Tarnowska: If we look at the spaces of hyper-modern cities (including Polish ones), we will notice common denominators, and among the processes shaping their fabric - the same phenomena. They are hot, networked, dense with people, infrastructure and stimuli. Of course, certain phenomena are more characteristic of specific latitudes and cultural areas than others. But the parallel "global village" we inhabit, which is a space of constant exchange of ideas and images, promotes the blurring of these differences. Malgorzata Dymnicka describes contemporary urban reality as "heterogeneous, full of the unexpected, non-linear, spontaneous and engaging, and urban space itself as commercialized, disjointed, chaotic and devoid of value "1. The nomadic nature of hyper-modernity, globalization, high levels of networkedness and mobility, the requirement for multitasking imposed by the pace of everyday life - all of these things foster a weakening of our relationship with the spaces of the places in which we live.

Użytkownicy blopa.

blop. as a seat on a windowsill

© Natala Tarnowska

"There is a reciprocal interaction between the city and its users. "2 Georg Simmel points out that "social life consists primarily in the sensory experience of the world and is itself a complex, pulsating and changing sensory experience. "3 Each of us has "his city " - his image of the city, which is formed under the influence of subjective experiences, in encounters with its spaces. The loss of continuity in the experience of space affects the memory of places, and thus their existence on our mental maps of the city and the possibility of forming personal meanings. The result is that our experience is superficial, and the process itself is, in the long run, uprooting, as it makes it difficult to establish a socializing relationship that gives a literal sense of having a "place in the world." The detachment from the "place of action" of the activities performed promotes the mobility of our lifestyle, but it also makes places reach us only as images and cannot be the "center of bodily activity," which leads to an increase in the scale of the non-place phenomenon.

Detal blop.

The project was made of colored synthetic rubber

© Natala Tarnowska

In the oculocentric increasingly hard-to-grasp-literally and figuratively dematerializing hyper-modernity that the beginning of the 21st century has been called, Juhani Pallasma admonishes that "thegoal of designers should be to produce conditions that sensitize our experience of everyday life and give it existential meaning. "4 Given the scale of the processes of urbanization5, I see great potential for affecting the quality of life of a large part of the world's population in the proper shaping of urban space, because, as the book "Berlin Key" by Bruno Latour shows, and Krajewski brilliantly summarizes, "habits are usually formed as a result of the solidification of the relationship linking the individual to the objects that form the context of everyday life. "6

Blop. na schodkach

The forms contrast with the monochromatic colors of the city

© Natala Tarnowska

Dobrawa: blop. is a place-making piece of urban furniture. What does the word "place-making" mean to you and how does blop. help this phenomenon?

Natala: The anthropological concept of "place" is defined as a space that, in addition to its physical location, consists of the meanings we give to it as a result of the actions we take in it and the relationships we develop as a result. Place-making activities, I understand as aiming to strengthen the relationship of users of urban spaces with the places they inhabit. Of particular importance to me is the production of conditions for embodied and situated interactions - the possibility of positively influencing people's experience that takes into account their bodies and their needs - including our integral need for balanced sensory experiences. Anthropologist David Howes includes the phenomenon of embodiment in situatedness. He depicts embodiment as the integration of body and mind, while situatedness is the sensory connection between body, mind and environment that influences our relationship with the material world around us7. The importance of establishing an embodied, direct relationship in the place-making process naturally prompts attention to the role of the body in creating a balanced experience of everyday life.

blop. promuje nawyk nieformalnego siadania w mieście na elementach miejskiej architektury

blop. disenchants walls and stairs

© Natala Tarnowska

blop. promotes the habit of sitting informally in the city on elements of urban architecture. Visually attractive forms - organic, contrasting with the monochromatic aesthetics of the city - draw the attention of passersby and potential users. They invite us to notice the passing spaces, to enter into a direct, embodied interaction with them, and thus to their actual existence, writing themselves on our mental maps. Blop. by helping us see their potential, normalizing their use, transforms the already existing, often indifferent to us (at best) spaces of the city into places. By its presence, it encourages a more playful, casual use of urban space - by signaling a not-so-obvious, or enthusiastically perceived, opportunity to be in it. It gives more people the opportunity to sit, lean, lie comfortably in places they previously associated with filth or social marginality. It changes their perspective on the city's space, disenchanting walls, stairs and windowsills. It strengthens the relationship with urban space by providing positive experiences.

blop. proces projektowy

blop. design phase

© Natala Tarnowska

Dobrawa: What were your design inspirations? What influenced the final form of the seats and their colors? In your thesis you mention "perceptual exclamation points." Please explain this term and how it influenced the design.

Natala: The urban environment is a place where an increasing percentage of the world's population lives every day. It is a space that, due to the number of interactions taking place in it, has great potential to influence and, as a result, shape its users. One of my main design inspirations was to observe how unobvious it is today to experience urban space through the sense of touch. How overlooked it is as a tool in our daily exploration of public spaces, which we rely primarily on the distant senses of sight, hearing and smell. I looked at the tactile sensations from contact with various types of objects or textures that I touch every day in urban spaces. Both those that evoke pleasure or surprise, as well as those that are negative. Resulting from exploring the environment with the hand, but also the one experienced through the rest of the body: the receptors of our feet, back, buttocks, etc. How did these sensations affect me, what emotions did they give rise to in me, for how long? Did they affect my relationship with the space I was in to some degree? I thought of moments of simple pleasure: of sliding my hand along a hedge on the road, or the promising-looking surface of the facade of a passing building. About the surprising warmth of the concrete that our body touches when we sit on it on a summer evening. And about those that remind us of our corporeality in a less pleasant way, when, for example, we lean against the cold sheet of glass of a bus shelter while waiting for a bus on a chilly autumn day.

blop. moodboard

blop. design moodboard

© Natala Tarnowska

At least for a fraction of a second, these small perceptual exclamations create a breach in our daily flurry of thoughts - forcing us to see into ourselves and our emotions, but also to notice, pay attention and enter into a relationship with the space we inhabit. These simple activities have a special character for me. Bonding and embodying, and thus - empowering, firmly rooted in the present. My attention was also drawn to their place-making potential - creating a memory of place inside the experiencer, sensitizing the experience of reality, rooting it in time. I realized how valuable an evocation of the tangible "here and now" can be for us living in the rushing reality of the 21st century, whose technological advances increasingly dematerialize everyday experience. Recognizing the need to enhance embodied and thus situated experiences in urban spaces, I looked at the so-called points of contact between the body and the city - how people touch city spaces without using their hands - by sitting, lying down, or leaning back. The project is the result of a search for a context for activities that enhance the situated experience of urban space users. I was interested in creating shapes that allow one to assume a comfortable position, but without imposing a specific one - preserving the freedom to assume it, inherent in informal spaces. Important in building a positive user experience is the softness of the blop seats/backrests, unexpected in an urban space. The aesthetics and colors of the project refer to street art aesthetics - contrasting with the formal, monochromatic concrete and glass cityscape.

odbiorcy blopa

Citying is a philosophy of informal sitting in the city

© Natala Tarnowska

Dobrawa: Who are the recipients of blop.?

Natala: blop. was created for passersby, especially users of urban space, who are not in the habit of entering into an informal relationship with urban space. It is very important in a polarized era of change and uncertainty, migration, or nomadism to shape public spaces that make it easier for its users to build a relationship with it, to root themselves in it. As architect, researcher and placemaker Anna Ruminska describes, so-called citying, a philosophy of informal sitting in the city (on elements of small architecture not strictly designed for this - walls, stairs, parapets) is a type of activity usually practiced by certain groups, primarily young and/or physically fit people8. However, many older people, as well as able-bodied adults, are not in the habit of interacting bodily with these spaces. They are put off by the potential discomfort, usually of concrete or stone surfaces, dirt, and even the informal social status of such places - often associated with the margins. It doesn't even occur to them that there is a place for them in this part of the city's space, too, and blop. can change that.

Dobrawa: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Dobrawa Bies

1. B. Kietlińska, "Warsaw as a research space for multisensory ethnography," Warsaw 2015, p. 36.
2. ibid, p. 36
3. G. Simmel, "Sociology of the Senses, Bridge and Door." A selection of essays, Oficyna Naukowa, Warsaw 2006, p. 185
4. J. Pallasma, A pause for critical thinking, "Self-Portrait. A journal of good space," 2020 II [69} p. 4.
5. UN World Urbanization,, accessed 10.06.2021
6. M. Krajewski, "The object that humanizes...", Warsaw 2008, p. 5 [PDF] _przedmiot_ktory_uczlowiecza.pdf, accessed 10.06.2021
7 D. Howes, "Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader," New York and Oxford: Berg, 2005 p. 7
8. A. Ruminska, "citying. like it!", eMSA Education Initiative,, accessed 10.09.2021

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